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(uk dvd, 2006)
comedy classics

A Hammer Special Comedy Presentation


Cover art for Optimum Releasing's 2006 release of Hammer's On the Buses trilogy (On the Buses/Mutiny on the Buses/Holiday on the Buses)

dvd review
For many Hammer fans the On the Buses films are the epitome of what was wrong with Hammer in the 1970s. They mark a very definite change of theme and direction for a company which was best known for its horror films. The more considered viewer can see the films for what they are - a return to the practices of Hammer in the early 1950s - in a bid to make a profit once again. During the late 1940s and early 1950s Hammer regularly adapted popular BBC radio thrillers and comedies for film. Precedents can be seen in the two Lyons films directed by Val Guest for example. By the turn of the decade Hammer had turned themselves over completely to straight horror.

For this critic at least On the Buses is a less offensive production than the fun black-comedy that is the Horror of Frankenstein. The latter picture is offensive because Jimmy Sangster takes his own script for The Curse of Frankenstein and transforms it into something with only slight humour. A comedy Frankenstein would certainly have been a good idea.

At any rate, On the Buses tapped into a phenomenon - the tv series ran for seven series from 1968 - 1973. Full of working class life, (some say) crass humour, its like a descendant of the saucy seaside postcard, Benny Hill and the Carry On films. It presents us with cheeky chappies in the form of Reg Varney's Stan Butler the bus driver, and his clippie mate Jack (Bob Grant - who apparantly worked as a bus conductor for real whilst studying at RADA) their constant battle against the Hitler-esque conductor Blakey (Stephen Lewis) and his attempts to thwart their skiving and endless pursuit of crumpet. The show also lets us into Stan's home life and his hideous family - mother, sister Olive and her husband Arthur - in their tiny terraced house in London.

Certainly the films probably have little appeal outside the UK and Australia, but Hammer were on to a good thing. Hammer's first adaptation was the most profitable British film of 1971. Its not hard to see why they made two more, and embarked upon a whole slate of tv remakes. You already have characters and setups familiar from the television, with a potentially huge already made audience. Of course, this can lead to confusion, but without having ever seen the tv series I've never had any problem in following the escapades of the films.

Having found the trilogy hard to watch in the past I was astonished to find myself warm to the series by the second feature and with an inkling to watch the entire tv series. But then I enjoy the likes of Benny Hill, Spike Milligan and had just been working my way through the recent Up Pompeii dvd when I started on this set. On the Buses is of its time certainly, but not without its admirers and its charm. Being completely un-PC is just part of that, and I have to say I do rather relish that break from the norm.

The trilogy has been released before - by Warner Home Video, and this is a moreorless straight re-release. Possibly slightly better images, but the same basic two disc, three film set.

On the Buses opens with the iconic red double decker bus being ridden through the streets on London whilst the title theme belts out its licentious lyrics about all the sexual shenanigans that go on during a day in the life of the average bus worker. Quite how these men in their late 40s ever get anything is beyond me, but heck, its escapism (think Men Behaving Badly set in the 1970s) so we shouldn't think about that. The title sequences always introduce us to the anarchy involved and the cast of main characters and power relationships. As the bus pulls into the depot we can see Hammer contract-actress Caroline Munro in her previous life as the Lambs Navy Rum girl on a huge billboard. The film itself features the usual predicament of a new over-zealous inspector attempting to reign in the roguish drivers from their idle ways, stopping off for unscheduled sex etc. This time round there's a shortage of staff and women drivers are being roped in to make up numbers. Yes folks imagine it indeed. Imagine plenty of innuendo and behaviour that in today's world would have you up before a tribunal for sexual discrimination as Stan and Jack set about sabotaging the companies plans for the women drivers.

For my money its the weakest film of the set actually - not quite as fun or as filmic as the next two features, which break beyond the local confines of the bus station.

I realise now I actually watched the second and third films the wrong way round in preparation for the review, which at least means that the development of Olive's kid now makes sense!

Second outing was Mutiny on the Buses which is I think actually the best of the three films on offer. Its a little bit like three tv episodes stuck together at times, but there is a rhythm which works, and makes for convenient breaks when viewing on the domestic format. Stan accidentally finds himself engaged to fellow bus driver Suzy, to the horror of the rest of the family who are depending on him for financial support. After Arthur is sacked Stan agrees to teach him how to drive a bus in order to secure a job.

It follows on nicely from the big screen debut, with the women drivers now equal with the men. Stan's domestic life is still a nightmare with the family from hell, which now includes a potty-training baby. The social realities of the 1970s are here alongside the innuendo and nudging. Everything on the HP, families crammed together in order to secure a living space, with extended groups under one roof. Arthur this time at least gets to join in the fun with his training as a driver and his eventual work at the depot itself. The final third involves a trial run with Stan and Blakey to the exotic Windsor Safari Park which involves some playful monkeys and a group of lions.

The abundance of Pontins advertising on the buses themselves is brought to its natural conclusion for the fun outings of the final in the trilogy Holiday on the Buses. Stan and Jack loose their jobs at the depot only to find themselves work as drivers at a Pontins holiday camp. Of course Blakey has ended up there too as security. There follows the usual manic excitement, pursuit of women and sexual frissons. The rest of the family once again act as a suitable explosive element including the grim realist humour of repainting lodgings, exploding toilets and a senior liason between Stan's mum (Doris Hare) and (a delightful guest turn) Wilfred Brambell.

It seems that Blakey, Stan and Jack are forever to be drawn together and that where they are, pandemonium will follow.

The transfers themselves are all perfectly fine in both sound and picture. There's some print damage evident in Holiday On the Buses, but otherwise all is good. On the Buses is presented in a fullscreen ratio, whilst the other two features are presented in a 16:9 anamorphic print (which appears to slightly crop the image).

Disappointingly Optimum haven't bothered sourcing any extras at all for this disc. All the more disappointing because the set has been available before (at least this one has nicer packaging). Very basic scene selection only. It does seem a shame that more couldn't have been done with stills, posters, campaign books, and heck, why not a documentary? Hammer comedy has never really been looked into, and this set of films would have been as good as any.

So providing you aren't too anal about political correctness, humour, sexuality or anything else, this one might just be worth a watch. And if you were a fan of the tv series, add this to your collection.


© Robert J.E. Simpson 2006
screen grabs used are for illustrative and comparative purposes, and are used in the spirit of publicity. No attempt it made to infringe copyright - which remains with Optimum Releasing and Hammer Film Productions Ltd.
page posted 14 November 2006


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Release Date: 25 September 2006 (UK)

Feature length: 251 mins
Year of theatrical release: 1971, 1972, 1973
Rating: 18
Aspect Ratio: 4x3 Full Frame (Disc 1); 16x9 anamorphic(approx 1.85:1) (Disc 2)
Audio: English mono
No of Discs: 2
Region code:
Colour Format: PAL
Catalogue no: D
Distributor: Optimum Releasing
£19.99 (RRP)
Reg Varney, Stephen Lewis, Doris Hare, Bob Grant, ichael Robbins, Anna Karen, Henry Magee, Wilfred Brambell, David Lodge, Wendy Richards
Harry Booth, Bryan Izzard

* Scene Selection


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